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Margie Orford

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Books and Wine in Franschhoek

The first Franschoek Literary Festival was a delight. Literature is usually improved by wine, and having the whole town as a venue worked very well. Several of the invited authors were so considerably improved by the wine that I wondered if they would make their sessions. But they did and despite some delicate head holding there were some very good converstaions.

The whole thing felt effortless – so it must have been extremely well organised. All the panels were very well attended and people seemed to be talking to each other, rather than past each other. Writers are not a very communal species, but I so appreciated meeting other South African authors and hearing what they are thinking about and why they are writing. I spoke on a crime writers panel with Andrew Brown that was chaired by Mike Nicol. There were questions about why it had taken so long for the genre to mature in South Africa but it seems to be that local readers (as well as writers) were relieved to have escaped The Great South African Novel and enjoyed having a local flavour for books that while away a long afternoon. John van der Ruit, author of the best-selling Spud phenomonon (I cant think of another word to describe it), said much the same thing when talking about his new book, Spud, The Madness Continues. It was interesting too, hearing John van der Ruit in conversation with Zapiro and Mike van Graan talking about humour and ways of seeing formed by satire pre-94 (Zapiro and Van Graan) and post-94 (Van der Ruit). Mike Van Graan’s new play, by the way, made its world premiere. The script is fast, funny and furious and I thought that Lindiwe Matshikiza was fabulous. She got standing ovations at both her performances so look out for the show, Bafana Republic .

There were two discussions on place – one on Jozi and another called Cape Town, Home Town, which I chaired (Andrew Brown and Mike Nicol again, with poet Rustum Kozain). Interesting to see South African lit being discussed in terms of location, and particularly urban location. There has always been a town/country divide in so much South African literature, but the use of urban locales and how different they are becoming was notable. A member of the audience who attended both sessions commented that Johannesburg was a city that responded to people and their movements whereas Cape Town, the Mother City, was something to which writers responded.

Liz Calder chaired a session on children’s literature. I did feel rather like David confronted with the Goliath of publishing – she is the woman who publishes the Harry Potter series after all. Nonetheless, the discussion between Louis Baum, Liz’s husband and a children’s author in his own right and Helen Brain, who has written many children’s books, was very interesting. I also write for children, but have written for second language readers and worked on developing early childhood reading so the talk did range for childhood literacy and literary childhoods. The aim of the festival, in part, was to raise money for a library in Franschhoek and there were several librarians present who brought home just how few materials are available to communities and schools.

Prior to the festival, the organiser ran a poetry competition. Inmates at The Groot Drakenstien Correctional Facility entered and a few writers attending were asked to give a workshop at the prison. I finally worked out that the prison used to be known as Victor Verster. Max du Preez, Fred Khumalo, Mike Nicol, me and the very New York-glamorous Siri Hustvedt spent a couple of hours talking about writing and writers block and ways of shaping a memoir. Surreal but a highlight of the weekend for me.

I do hope they do it again next year. It was fun, it was well-attended, and such a beautiful place.